‘We’ve become the land of cottage cheese’

Peres calls for lower prices and lower cost of living while Steinitz says it’s ‘not a matter of good and bad’ in meeting with dairy companies.

311_Yuval Steinitz (photo credit: Tamar Matsafi)
311_Yuval Steinitz
(photo credit: Tamar Matsafi)
The consumer backlash against the price of cottage cheese found a place once again in Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz’s daily schedule, when he met Thursday morning with the major dairy manufacturers and retailers in his Tel Aviv office.
Steinitz said that he wanted to hear all sides to the story before making decisions, and that his objective was not to deal solely with the rising or falling price of dairy products, but “to examine whether there has been a market failure” as a whole.
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“I want to emphasize that this is not a matter of good and bad. We need to see what happened and if the situation can be fixed. There will not be a package deal or a dividing of responsibility; the full responsibility rests with the government.”
Noticeably absent from the talks were dairy farmers themselves. They have claimed Steinitz is unfairly pinning responsibility on those who rear the cattle, who claim they earn the government-set sum of NIS 2.15 per liter of unprocessed milk.
The farmers passed the responsibility for finding a solution to marketing networks and companies producing dairy products, such as Tnuva or Tara, who set prices for the consumer. This opinion, Israel Radio said, is shared by the Dairy Council and the the Union of Dairy Cattle Farmers, representing some 3,000 families in Israel.
President Shimon Peres also weighed in on the issue Thursday, when he told bloggers at the Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem that Israel had transformed from “the land of milk and honey” into “the land of cottage cheese.”
“Even though Israel has some of the highest standards of milk produce in the world, the public pays unreasonable costs for dairy products,” he said.
“The cost of the brokerage between the dairy farms and the consumers must be altered. And there must be a response not just to the cost of cottage cheese but also to the cost of living in Israel in general.”
The recent suggestion by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the government would consider opening the dairy market to imports won the backing of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce.
VP for the business organization Arye Zief said it was a matter of “urgency” that the government open the market to outside products.
And as the Facebook-inspired consumer boycott looks no closer to dying down, the big manufacturers – Tnuva, Strauss, Tara – may be starting to feel the effects of the public’s anger. According to findings in a Globes report, Tnuva cottage cheese sales have fallen 25 percent in quantitative terms since the boycott campaign was launched at the beginning of last week.
The newspaper quoted one former Tnuva manager as saying the company “has never seen such a precipitous drop in cottage cheese sales in its history.”